Cancer in the workplace: How should HR respond?


With thousands of Australians a year diagnosed with cancer, there is a high chance it will affect someone in your workplace. Significant business and personal challenges arise from such a diagnosis and workplace’s need to have policies in place to ensure a supportive environment is in place.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the employer has the obligation to make “reasonable adjustments” to the work environment for a cancer patient unless they result in “unjustifiable hardships” to the organisation. Reasonable adjustments might include things like additional breaks if the employee needs to attend medical appointments or a reduced workload to accommodate their fatigue from treatments.

There is no legal obligation to inform an employer of a cancer diagnosis, but with the high chance of the diagnosis impacting work capabilities and the obligation for workplaces to attempt to care for the change in circumstance, it would be in their best interests to do so.

Once a dialogue has been opened between the employee and the HR department, it is important that all the options are explored and the most practical arrangements are made. These should focus on how much of the original duties the employee is able to maintain and what the company can do to help throughout the period.

As for how to create a supportive environment, The Cancer Council has a factsheet that provides a list of ideas employers can adopt. It’s important to note that a balance of support needs to be struck between the employer and employee. It’s important that they are aware that changes can be made in order to accommodate for their circumstance and that there is a support network available to them.

Moreover, others in the workplace need to be aware of the challenges the worker is going through and what they can do to help. Knowing a colleague is going through cancer treatment can be very difficult as they might be unaware of what to do, so HR needs to address the issue and provide the knowledge and steps required to maintain the workplace balance.

Maintaining a sense of normalcy is important to those affected by a cancer diagnosis, as it can help take their minds off treatment and help them retain familiarity in daily life. It is important they do not feel ostracised and they maintain their sense of independence.

Cancer can greatly affect one’s capacity to perform their normal work duties, but many are unable to go without working during their treatment. The workplace also provides a useful support network and provides a sense of normalcy that many find useful. HR must work closely with cancer patients to create a dialogue that results in mutually beneficial arrangements.

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Anne
Anne
6 years ago

As an HR business partner I was asked by a couple of staff members to assist and facilitate in the formation of a support group for staff undergoing cancer treatment and those who were supporting family members who were undergoing treatment. They felt that a regular (fortnightly) meeting and a network of like-minded people would help them to get through this gruelling period. I convened the group and there was agreement amongst them that they could rely on each other as needed during difficult times (not just during the scheduled meetings). Things went well for a couple of months, until… Read more »

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Cancer in the workplace: How should HR respond?


With thousands of Australians a year diagnosed with cancer, there is a high chance it will affect someone in your workplace. Significant business and personal challenges arise from such a diagnosis and workplace’s need to have policies in place to ensure a supportive environment is in place.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the employer has the obligation to make “reasonable adjustments” to the work environment for a cancer patient unless they result in “unjustifiable hardships” to the organisation. Reasonable adjustments might include things like additional breaks if the employee needs to attend medical appointments or a reduced workload to accommodate their fatigue from treatments.

There is no legal obligation to inform an employer of a cancer diagnosis, but with the high chance of the diagnosis impacting work capabilities and the obligation for workplaces to attempt to care for the change in circumstance, it would be in their best interests to do so.

Once a dialogue has been opened between the employee and the HR department, it is important that all the options are explored and the most practical arrangements are made. These should focus on how much of the original duties the employee is able to maintain and what the company can do to help throughout the period.

As for how to create a supportive environment, The Cancer Council has a factsheet that provides a list of ideas employers can adopt. It’s important to note that a balance of support needs to be struck between the employer and employee. It’s important that they are aware that changes can be made in order to accommodate for their circumstance and that there is a support network available to them.

Moreover, others in the workplace need to be aware of the challenges the worker is going through and what they can do to help. Knowing a colleague is going through cancer treatment can be very difficult as they might be unaware of what to do, so HR needs to address the issue and provide the knowledge and steps required to maintain the workplace balance.

Maintaining a sense of normalcy is important to those affected by a cancer diagnosis, as it can help take their minds off treatment and help them retain familiarity in daily life. It is important they do not feel ostracised and they maintain their sense of independence.

Cancer can greatly affect one’s capacity to perform their normal work duties, but many are unable to go without working during their treatment. The workplace also provides a useful support network and provides a sense of normalcy that many find useful. HR must work closely with cancer patients to create a dialogue that results in mutually beneficial arrangements.

guest
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anne
Anne
6 years ago

As an HR business partner I was asked by a couple of staff members to assist and facilitate in the formation of a support group for staff undergoing cancer treatment and those who were supporting family members who were undergoing treatment. They felt that a regular (fortnightly) meeting and a network of like-minded people would help them to get through this gruelling period. I convened the group and there was agreement amongst them that they could rely on each other as needed during difficult times (not just during the scheduled meetings). Things went well for a couple of months, until… Read more »

More on HRM